Happy Thanksgiving-Planning Week! The big day is a week from tomorrow and I'm here to add a little burst of inspiration if you're looking to change things up a bit this year. This method for How To Smoke a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill works great for bone-in turkey breasts, whole turkeys, or really any poultry you would like. I've also included a Dry Brine recipe that works perfectly for smoking, grilling, or roasting. It is my go-to brining method these days. I'm over the mess of wet brining at this stage in my life. Can I get an Amen?
I’ve made it a bit of a hobby over the past several months to read and research all about the art and science of grilling and smoking meats. We’ve always loved to grill on our charcoal grill, and my husband has gotten VERY good at it over the 14 years that we’ve owned ours. We don’t have any big fancy bells and whistles, just a couple of classic Weber kettle charcoal grills. As with almost anything food-related in life, if your technique is precise and the ingredients are of good quality, you’re almost certainly going to have a favorable outcome, or at least learn a little bit to improve future endeavors.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and with each passing year our family has grown in numbers. More people means we need more turkey. I’ve found that the answer to feeding a larger crowd on Turkey Day is not usually a bigger bird. Anything beyond about 14-ish pounds gets too cumbersome to cook all the way through without drying out the breast, and it takes way too long to cook also. I’ve gotten in the routine of cooking a bone-in turkey breast for the past two years for some extra turkey, AKA leftovers insurance. It would be a very sad Black Friday if I wasn’t able to enjoy a leftover turkey sandwich in the twinkling glow of Christmas lights while watching Home Alone. I’m terribly predictable like that.
Whether you choose to smoke a turkey breast (or a whole turkey) this year as an additional turkey for your family table or if it is the centerpiece of your meal, as a hostess I cannot recommend it highly enough because it frees up oven space. My husband mans the grill and keeps the coffee flowing while I handle all of the pots, pans, place settings, and pies indoors. We have a system and it works great. Can’t wait to smoke a turkey breast this year!
Besides the punch of flavor that will wow your guests, another added bonus of smoking a bone-in turkey breast is that you can make a fantastic smoky turkey stock with the carcass. I highly recommend using some leftover smoked turkey breast and the broth to make a Smoked Turkey Pot Pie. Trust me on this one. (Simply substitute the smoked turkey and stock for the chicken in this Chicken Pot Pie recipe.)
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How To Smoke a Turkey Breast on a Charcoal Grill
Smoking a turkey on a charcoal grill is quite simple, yet the flavors are complex and make for a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving table. This method works great for whole birds or bone-in breasts and the leftover sandwiches are masterpiece-level delicious thanks to the punch of smoky goodness.
- Cook Time: 2-5 hours
- Total Time: 2 days
Supplies & Equipment-
Charcoal kettle grill
Charcoal and chimney starter
Disposable aluminum tray
About 5 Wood chunks or chips (Maple, Apple, Cherry, or Hickory are my favorites. I do not recommend mesquite in this recipe as it is too overpowering for poultry.)
Bone-In Turkey Breast, about 7-8 pounds, fresh or thawed from frozen
3 tablespoons Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
½ teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon rubbed sage
½ teaspoon rosemary
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 2-3 days ahead of time: Dry brine the turkey- Combine all kosher salt, thyme, sage, rosemary, and dark brown sugar in a small bowl. Rub into and under the skin of the turkey. Place turkey on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for 2-3 days. Remove from refrigerator at least 30-60 minutes prior to smoking to allow it to come up to room temperature.
- On Cooking Day: Soak the wood chunks in the aluminum tray filled with water for 30 minutes prior to smoking.
- Start the charcoal using a charcoal chimney starter. (This is the most efficient method of starting charcoal in our experience and does not necessitate using starter fluid.) Let the charcoals burn until glowing red before transferring to the grill, about 15-20 minutes.
- Arrange the charcoal along one side in the bottom of the grill. Set the tray of water with the wood on the other side.
- Remove wood chunks from water and arrange 2-3 wood chunks on top of the charcoal. (Use 4 or 5 chunks if the pieces are small.)
- Place the cooking grate into position and cover the grill for a few minutes while the cooking grate heats up. Adjust the air vents so they’re less than half-way open. Medium-low INDIRECT heat is the goal.
- Place turkey breast onto pre-heated grill skin side down. Replace cover and let cook for 1 hour before removing lid. Flip bird over and cook another 30 minutes, adjusting vents as needed to control browning, checking temperature periodically until minimum temperature of 165°F is reached. To check the temperature: Insert an instant-read thermometer into thickest part of the breast without touching bone. Once the target internal temperature has been nearly reached, feel free to add more charcoal and open the vents to increase browning as desired. We do not usually need to do this step, but that is another nice feature of using a charcoal chimney- you can heat up more charcoals while the grill is in use.
- Transfer cooked turkey to a platter and tent with foil for 20 minutes before carving.
A note about cook times: My rule of thumb when grilling and smoking turkeys is 1 ½ hours per 5lbs. of meat. A 7-8 pound bone-in turkey breast is typically done in about 2 hours. For a 12-14 pound whole turkey, plan for about 4-5 hours of cook time. Tip- Spatchcocking the bird can help cut down on the cook time. Do not use time as the judge for doneness. The only way to ensure safe cooking temperatures is by using a thermometer.
A note about cooking temperatures: More air = Higher heat. Less air = Lower heat. Adjust vents on your grill accordingly as needed to control cooking temperature.
Keywords: how to smoke a turkey on a charcoal grill, smoking turkey without a smoker, smoked turkey breast, thanksgiving recipe, turkey on the grill, charcoal grill as a smoker
I hope this helped you feel confident in how to smoke a turkey on a charcoal grill, and maybe inspired you to try it for yourself. Let me know!
Do you guys have any favorite Thanksgiving traditions or funny turkey stories? I'd love to hear them! We typically spend our Thanksgiving hosting our family up at our cabin and we usually top off the festivities with such activities as fireworks and tomahawk throwing.
Let's stay in touch! I've got lots of great new recipes coming soon, and receiving my emails is the best way to know what's new here at Kitchen Joy.